NKU cybersecurity majors test their skills in real time

Posted at 4:30 AM, Oct 20, 2017
and last updated 2017-10-20 06:45:09-04

HIGHLAND HEIGHTS, Ky. -- Technology evolves too quickly for Northern Kentucky University's cybersecurity majors to learn everything they need from lectures and textbooks, College of Informatics dean Kevin Kirby said Thursday. 

That's why they also learn from testing their knowledge against human opponents in the "digitorium."

"We want to put them in a lab that's a threat lab," Kirby said. "It is modeled after some of the threat fusion labs. It's an intense, real-world setting."

The digitorium -- an auditorium in which all the seats face a giant digital display -- was Thursday the site of a competitive game between cybersecurity students from NKU and the University of Minnesota. U.S. Bank, the event sponsor, called it Capture the Flag -- really, said graduate student Jason Kelly, it's more like Risk. The teams compete to answer questions and solve incoming cybersecurity problems to earn points.

"It gives them a level up," he said. "You get used to working under pressure."

As recent high-profile data breaches at companies such as Equifax and Target illustrate, hackers can change tactics, pioneer new software and sneak around once-airtight defenses in a matter of weeks.

Even though cybersecurity is the most popular major at NKU -- a Department of Homeland Security-recognized Center of Excellence -- U.S. Bank assistant Vice President Charles Banks said it would be better for the country if enrollment in its program were even greater.

"Last year alone in the United States of America, over 209,000 (cybersecurity) jobs went unfilled," he said. 

That's an especially relevant problem to businesses like his, which stores much of its customers' most sensitive data. Banks said he hopes U.S. Banks' participation in NKU's program will encourage graduates to look for jobs within the company.

"We're trying to build a pipeline of talent by identifying that talent early, which exercises like this allow us to do," he said.